The United States government initially claimed Abu Zubaydah was the No. 3 man in al Qaida. But especially since the release of the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture, such an assertion has become increasingly harder for government officials to make.
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who was involved in the capture of Zubaydah, and former U.S. Marine Joseph Hickman, who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay prison, sought to set the record straight by writing a definitive book on Zubaydah. They join the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week to talk about, “The Convenient Terrorist: Two Whistleblowers’ Stories Of Torture, Terror, Secret Wars, and CIA Lies.”
To listen to the interview, click the above player or go here.
Hickman recalls, “I was waiting for the Senate report to come out in December 2015.” He looked for Zubaydah’s name when the report came out because he was working for Zubaydah’s habeas defense team. He knew he had to get a hold of Kiriakou because everything Kiriakou previously “brought to light years earlier” was essentially published by the Senate.
There needed to be a book that outlined how Zubaydah was not who the government said he was—the third-highest ranking member of al Qaida. However, it also had to capture the complexities of his life and show he was not necessarily the person his defense team claimed.
“This public identification by the White House of Abu Zubaydah being a senior al Qaida leader and perhaps one of the masterminds of 9/11 was just a lie,” Kiriakou declares. “And so, the more information that came to light about Abu Zubaydah, the more I realized just how dead wrong the CIA was about this guy.
“And at the same time, they were using the most horrific torture techniques against him to get him to talk about things that he just was not able to talk about because he didn’t have the access or the information,” Kiriakou adds.
Later in the interview, Kiriakou and Hickman respond to a few of the statements from depositions given by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two CIA psychologists who were architects of the CIA’s torture program. They currently face a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of torture victims and their families.
“We have a federal torture act in this country passed into law in 1946 and signed by President Truman that specifically outlawed exactly the techniques that Mitchell and Jessen had used against Abu Zubaydah and subsequently against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others,” Kiriakou notes.
Jessen asserts that he “deliberated with great, soulful torment” about whether to carry out torture. The fact of the matter, as pointed out, is he and Mitchell were paid $81 million. There was a profit motive to their decisions to proceed with harsh and brutal interrogations.
“I believe [Jessen’s] statement was absolutely ridiculous,” Hickman said. “He knows what these type of torture techniques would do to a person, regarding PTSD or anything else. He knew he was harming people when he [was] doing things like anal feeding or some of the worst ones.”
To the claim Mitchell made that Zubaydah constantly threatened to kill him, Kiriakou responded, “Of course he’s going to threaten Mitchell and Jessen. They’re torturing him.” But also, “He has seen us for all of his adult life as the enemy.”
In fact, Hickman recalled the constant threats he heard from detainees while stationed at Guantanamo. “They would say you’re really nice but you know I would kill you if I was ever out of here and we ever met again. It’s just we’re enemies. It didn’t phase me a bit and why it would phase these experienced psychologists is laughable.”
Both of the whistleblowers contend it is long past time for Zubaydah to receive a fair trial, and that trial should happen in federal court. And if he is not to be charged, then it is probably time for the U.S. military to release him from prison.
“There’s been so much disinformation over the years. Even though these issues are very difficult and complicated, I think we were able to really put it in layman’s terms so people can really understand that Abu Zubaydah, while a bad guy, was wronged.”